Monday, May 4, 2015

Charles McGill at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

When I saw Charles McGill's show, Territories. online, I knew I had to see it in person, but I couldn't get to New York until the last day of the exhibition. When I finally confronted the work at Pavel Zoubok's gallery, I found it even more fascinating than I had expected. A surprise bonus was the opportunity to meet and chat with Charles McGill, himself. He is a warm and engaging person who spoke freely about his work, his intentions for it, and his emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic attachment to his chosen material of golf bags.

Charles McGill with Blue Moon Tondo

What drew me so much to McGill's work was his use of repurposed or reconfigured golf bags. Destruction of the original objects and transformation of them into works of art makes these works bricolage, according to my definition. I really appreciated the materiality of the work from a formal, technical perspective. I was looking at them more as geometric abstractions with the intriguing additions of zippers, buckles, straps, handles and the dimensionality of layered materials.

 (Note: click photos to expand.)

Black Tondo, 2015,  reconfigured golf bags, 36 inches in diameter, 
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Black Tondo closeup, my photo from Territories exhibition

Political implications
McGill, however, comes to this work as a golfer and as an African-American. These works grew out of his political and identity-focused approach to art making that began in the late 1990s with "the Legendary Political Trailblazer Arthur Negro II, aka  Art Negro, aka Black Art." McGill wanted to emphasize the racial and economic gulf between the privileged leisure of the game of golf and the oppressed situation of the majority of African-American people. McGill personally bridged that gap as a golfer himself and integrated the de facto whites-only game. After experimenting with various forms and approaches to the subject, he began deconstructing golf bags and using them as his art material. This allowed  him to enrich his work with many connotations and implications such as leisure, race, masculinity, wealth, sports, and class.

White Tondo, 2014, reconfigured golf bags, 36 inches in diameter
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Development of the work
As time and work have gone on and McGill has continued using golf bags, his intention for the work has undergone some modification. As I understand the progression, the work has become more about formally composing works containing an interesting variety of shapes and dimension, focusing on color and also referring to art historical subjects. The personal identity components are still there but play a lesser part in many works.

As McGill says on his website: "The recent work is a testament to the belief that the material can dictate the direction of the work and how it evolves. Tondos and Totems aren’t objects I would have ever thought I would make with this golf bag as a starting point. But that is exactly what has occurred in the studio." (quote from McGill's website)

Black Tondo and White Tondo were the first two of McGill's works to be based on a circle, rather than a square or rectangle, but his varying treatment of the center of this shape as well as the draping of zippers, flaps and other parts becomes very elegant and really moves the work beyond the original source. Also note that with these two pieces McGill means "black" and "white" to refer to race as well as to color of the materials.

Self Portrait in a Tondo
McGill told me about this work representing himself in relation to his father, who died at age 51 when McGill was 30. As he grew older, McGill was understandably fearful of reaching the age at which his father had died. Marking the milestone of his 51st birthday with this large work, must have meant an easement for him of having passed that emotionally-disturbing age.

Target 51, 2015, reconfigured golf bags, 48 inches in diameter
(image from Charles McGill's website)

Aside from its personal meaning to McGill, I particularly liked this tondo for the red markers at the edge forming slightly skewed compass points that may represent McGill's passage through life.

Other Forms, Other Meanings
In addition to tondos, there were many other forms in this extensive exhibition of works, including free-standing sculptures and some pieces representing hooded, menacing figures. These, of course, allude to the KKK and its persecution of African Americans. They portray another, more frightening aspect of McGill's commentary on race and evidence a progression in tone and approach from the satirical figure of Arthur Negro.

I, 2014, reconfigured golf bags, 48 inches high

Material Effort
McGill speaks about his physical struggle to deconstruct golf bags and the fact that works in progress are sometimes marked with blood from cuts he sustains while tearing and cutting the bags apart.

"New pieces literally wrestled into shape. Stubborn objects. There is so much resistance. Each step is a physical challenge. These bags were made well and not manufactured to come apart, especially not to be pulled apart, twisted and manipulated into shapes that are counter-intuitive to their nature."

And all that physical struggle becomes part of the work as well so that the "knowing" of the material by the artist is not only discovery but also creation of the material.

A Ghostly Dimension
Exploring the material for as long as McGill has and becoming able to push it in new and unexpected directions has resulted in a rich variety of works that transcend their origin. However, it seems to me that bricolage works exist in more than one space; the original forms of the objects from which they are made remain as a kind of ghostly presence in the new art pieces. We look at the new work but still get glimpses of the source material. We seem to experience it in more than three dimensions as we see the present and receive intimations of the past.

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